Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe starts the same way Phase 1 did: with Robert Downey Jr. starring as Iron Man. But this one is a bit of an incoherent mess that does a good job with Tony Stark’s PTSD, but forgets to tell an interesting story around it. Plus: endless exploding Iron Man suits for no compellingly good reason! The great superhero movie rewatch examines Iron Man 3.
Having said that, the use of the Mandarin is brilliant. The notion of the Mandarin as a construct used to cover for the Extremis soldiers exploding is fantastic. It enables them to use Iron Man’s greatest foe, and also shine a light on the stereotype that he was created as. Ben Kingsley deserves tremendous kudos here, as he plays the Mandarin as genuinely menacing. His speeches about the massacre at Sand Creek and the origin of fortune cookies (“They’re actually an American invention, which is why they’re hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth”) are quite clever and scarily delivered justifications for the bombings. And then his later performance as drugged-out Trevor Slattery is just hilarious.